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Writer Irvine Welsh sees the funny side

Scottish writer Irvine Welsh was the big name draw at the first Literatura Expandida (LEM) a Magaluf literary festival which took place on the first weekend in October. It was held on the spectacular rooftop of the Innside Calvia Beach hotel in optimistically named Momentum Plaza.

Irvine Welsh has come a long way. He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland some time in the 1950s. From Scottish working-class origins, he sang in punk bands in London before returning to Edinburgh in the late 1980s.

Here, he began began writing in earnest and published his first novel Trainspotting in 1993. This follows a group of working-class friends through dangerous adventures, heroin addiction and crime. On its publication, it  was admired and reviled in equal measure.

Trainspotting spawned a hugely popular film. Of Welsh’s 11 novels, Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance (1996) and Filth (2013) have also been filmed.

Welsh writes in an Edinburgh Scots dialect mainly about working-class Scottish life. His subjects are invariably sex, drugs, football, and violence. Characters reappear in different books, adding to the sense that Welsh writes about a particular universe.

Sitting in the shade on the Innside rooftop while sunbathers lounged beside glass-bottomed pools and the ocean shimmered in the sun, it felt like a thoroughly different universe from the one Welsh writes about.

Tall, trim, well-preserved, and laidback, he immediately charmed the enthusiastic interviewer and glamorous interpreter. The audience, mainly hip young Mallorcans, laughed dutifully at his jokes when they were translated.

At one point, Welsh talked about how his books were all about the theme of transition. He meant transitioning to a world without work, where, among other things, “the ruling elite are figuring out how to control people without paying them”.

This transition, according to Welsh, amounts to a tremendous upheaval. It was then that I wondered if he was at all aware that Magaluf itself is quietly undergoing its own profound transformation.

The rooftop pool at Innside Calvia Beach

A brief history of Magaluf

At the end of the 1960s, a group of refugees from overcrowded, increasingly unchic San Tropez decided it was time to move on. They searched the Mediterranean until they discovered the broad, sandy and gracefully curving beach at Magaluf.

Among them was a character who could easily be in an Irvine Welsh novel. He started La Baraka Beach Bar here in 1971. Footballing legend Georgie Best used to hide out at La Baraka and get hammered.

La Baraka’s owner was a Tunisian middleweight champion boxer who’d knocked about with the Paris jet-set in the 1950s. One of his pals was Dominican diplomat and playboy Porfirio Rubirosa who managed to marry Doris Duke and Barbara Hutton, two of the richest women in the world.

In certain circles, the giant black pepper grinders that waiters wave over pizza were called Rubirosas. Draw your own conclusions.

A couple of impressive crimes were allegedly planned at La Baraka.

“I’m going to a literary festival in Magaluf,” I said. “Isn’t that a contradiction in terms,” he said. He was wrong.

One of these was the kidnapping of a French business tycoon called Baron Édouard-Jean Empain for a ransom of 17 million Swiss Francs by a not exactly professional gang that included a pimp named Joe The Marseilles. When the police discovered that the gang, who all claimed not to know each other, had spent a week on Mallorca planning the kidnap, the game was up.

Another equally spectacular early 80s crime allegedly hatched at La Baraka was the heist of a van loaded with used francs, marks and pounds worth 780 million pesetas being sent back from bureau de changes all over the island to Mallorca airport.

The Mallorcan police thought the owner had something to do with this. One morning, he opened the shutters to his apartment above the beach to find 40 police sharpshooters lying on the glaring white sand, rifles pointed at him.

He denied all knowledge of the currency heist and was never convicted.

There’s a tiny beach bar at the end of what is now Calvia Beach, the upmarket far end of Magaluf in which the Innside Calvia Beach. This may well have been La Baraka.

Given what Magaluf became it’s fascinating that it was originally a hip, best kept secret. It also places the LEM festival in an intriguing context. Perhaps the owner of La Baraka was a visionary, way ahead of his time.

Welsh charming the interviewer and interpreter

On Magaluf beach

After the interview with Welsh, which was nicely done, we had lunch on the beach at place called Ipizza.

In its own way, Ipizza represents an alternative, funkier, future Magaluf. It’s all mismatched furniture and washed out colours – no turquoise and blinding expanses of white sofas, no tinkling chillout music.

The food is indifferent but that didn’t matter.

As we were leaving, I heard the waiter say to a Spanish couple that 90% of the tourists to Magaluf this year were French.

After a siesta and a swim, we strolled into Magaluf. Outside Lineker’s bar, a group of English lads, shirtless and pink from the sun, were singing, shouting and laughing. Like La Baraka’s founder, they could have been in an Irvine Welsh novel.

I wondered where Welsh was spending the evening.

All photos by Gabriella Kiss. Used with permission.